Candid Commentaries: Labor, Politics, Social Media, and the Academy

Winter 2022

Vol. 22 no. 1

The article by Dylan Reid Miller advances scholarship on social media, child labor, and capitalism. Exploring the family vlogger industry, it illuminates the exploitative role of parents, advertisers, and YouTube algorithms. Miller shows that with neoliberalism dissolving work-life boundaries, the exploitation of children includes kidfluencers in advertisements along with kids whose life experiences become “fodder for monetizable content” in YouTube family channel vlogs. Echoing Miller’s call for analysis and engagement, Ruth M. Gregory examines patterns in film history textbooks to expand curriculum studies grounded in Raymond Williams’s insights about “selective tradition.” Identifying prevailing priorities, Gregory shows that despite updates, new editions retain an emphasis on film-as-art and productions deemed important in the original volumes, so that cinema from the Global South, work by women and filmmakers of color, and material that challenges standard accounts remain peripheral. In another perspective on politics and the academy, Elisa Jochum, Stefania Marghitu, and Beckett Warren share their experiences and insights in a candid roundtable on scholarship, cultural engagement, and precarious labor following graduate work.   

                       --Cynthia Baron, Editor

Image by Christian Wiediger

“YouTube Family Channels: The New Frontier of Child Labor”

by Dylan Reid Miller

This article examines the undertheorized topic of children’s labor and social media, using a case study of YouTube “family channels,” which escape regulation under current United States laws meant to protect child actors. Drawing on Marxist feminist analyses of unwaged domestic labor, it argues that the functionality of internet algorithms, together with the view that the videos document authentic behavior not performances, obfuscate the reality of the children’s work, enabling parents and online platforms to exploit their labor without consequences. It also evaluates how YouTube and its parent company, Google, bear responsibility for creating and expanding the market for this exploitation due to the recommendation system prioritizing advertiser-friendly content like “family channel” vlogs to maximize their own profit. As the deindustrialization of the economy continues and new methods of alienation emerge from algorithmic control of gig-economy and digital labor, it is crucial to understand these methods and develop new modes of labor activism in response.

Image by Sharon McCutcheon

“The Politics of Survey Cinema History Textbooks”

by Ruth M. Gregory

Cinema history textbooks have long served as an introduction to the discipline and, for as long as they have been used, they have been criticized. Writing in 1950, James Card states, “The student turns to the film histories and there finds confusion, gossip, and the wildest sort of speculation.” This article uncovers the politics of contemporary survey cinema textbooks, including Flashback: A Brief History of Film (2009) by Louis Giannetti and Scott Eyman, A Short History of the Movies (2010) by Gerald Mast and Bruce Kawin, Movie History: A Survey (2011) by Douglas Gomery and Clara Pafort-Overduin, and Film History: An Introduction (2018) by Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell. Building on work in education and cultural studies, the article analyzes problematic canonized patterns, which include a tendency to obscure the contributions of women and people of color, a preference for framing film as an art form, and a general simplification of film history that discourages students from thinking critically about what is missing or marginalized in the historical narrative.

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“Roundtable on Scholarship, Cultural Engagement, and Precarious Labor following Graduate Work”

by Elisa Jochum, Stefania Marghitu, and Beckett Warren

The roundtable conversations vividly reflect their historical context. Elisa Jochum, Stefania Marghitu, and Beckett Warren reference the pandemic, as they experienced it in 2021, along with their experiences as public intellectuals who did their graduate work in a time when universities, like other institutions, increasingly mobilized neoliberal practices. The participants look back on their respective motivations for pursuing graduate work in their fields of study and they discuss connections (and disconnections) between academia and their activities following graduation. In addition, Jochum, Marghitu, and Warren speak candidly about economic factors that have affected their work and intellectual lives, in general and especially during the last year. They also discuss the salient social, technological, and political developments shaping their lives as well as those of colleagues, customers, and students. Notably, they all reveal their resilience and creativity in not simply navigating but also remaining active cultural contributors during an era of precarity.